woman seamstress taking photo of dress on a mannequin
Branding your business entails more than just creating a great logo and website. — Getty Images/vgajic

For small businesses, the concept of branding can be rather vague. You might think it's all about your colors, logo and tagline — and those are certainly part of it. But the totality of what makes up a "brand" involves much more than that.

At its most basic, a brand is a set of features that distinguishes one business from another. Those features might include obvious things like your name, your visual aesthetic and the "voice" or tone of your marketing materials, as well as some more abstract elements, like your mission statement, your core values and your larger "purpose" in the world. Perhaps most importantly, it is the community of people that forms around your company.

"Your logo and website are not your 'brand,'" said Patrick Hanlon, CEO and founder of primalbranding.co and the author of “Primal Branding” (Free Press, 2011). Your brand is your fans, vendors, customers, users, consumers, guests and employees, he said. “In other words, the people who are going to say raving good things about you and give you five stars."

Taken together, all of these features differentiate you from your competitors. They are the things that make your brand its own unique entity, one that can't be replicated or found elsewhere, even if another company offers the same products or services.

[Read: A Beginner's Guide to Branding Your Business]

Elements of a successful branding strategy

To craft a successful branding strategy, you'll need to define a few key elements that will work together to enhance your business’s messaging. Here are four things you'll need to consider when developing your strategy:

A brand narrative or story

Before people will care about and advocate for your business, they need to understand who you are and why you started your business. This can be achieved through a strong brand narrative.

Hanlon says a strategic brand narrative provides the following information:

  • Where you’re from.
  • Your reason for being (the "why").
  • How to identify that it’s you (your package, your logo, your product).
  • How people are supposed to use you.
  • What language you use to describe yourself and your product (“iced grande skinny decaf latte”).
  • What you’re not (you’re an electric car or a hybrid, but certainly not a combustible engine SUV).
  • Your brand's leader.

Once you've answered these questions, then you can refine those ideas and weave them together into a story.

Join our panel of experts to discuss how entrepreneurs can ensure their brands stay current during the pandemic and beyond.

Your brand should strive to evoke an emotional connection with your target demographic, often through shared values.

A clear message that resonates with your customers

Your brand narrative should inform the overall message you send to your target customers. According to Adnan Durrani, founder and CEO of Saffron Road, that message should focus on the values and attributes that most appeal to your target demographic.

“Make the message monolithic — very succinct, but crisp so that it fits in a snippet or sound bite that will be easy to remember," said Durrani.

Tyler Sickmeyer, founder of Fidelitas Development, agreed, noting that business owners should ask themselves these simple questions to help develop their message:

  • How do you want your target audience, your core customer, to perceive you?
  • What’s the best tone to use when communicating with them?
  • What's important to them?

"Center your brand around how you want to be perceived by those people – not just those closest to you that happen to have their own (unqualified) opinion," Sickmeyer told CO—.

A values-based emotional connection

Your brand should strive to evoke an emotional connection with your target demographic, often through shared values.

The key is to have your brand create an emotional connection with your consumer, so that group says, 'It’s a brand for me,' Durrani explained. "Then, try to develop a deep emotional engagement and viral advocacy which extends beyond the specific product experience."

Durrani noted that you may want to lean into cultivating a "tribal affinity" for your brand and what it stands for.

This can be facilitated via social media to appeal to younger consumers' digital social identity, reinforced by overt and visible public association, he added.

A great customer experience

Take your your brand beyond your messaging and live it every day when you interact with your customers.

"Too often, the brand strategy exists only in a PDF of the brand guidelines and perhaps on posters in the corporate office. It’s critical that marketing leaders ensure that those brand values are reflected in every element of the customer experience,” Sickmeyer said. There’s no point in losing sleep over font consistency if you’re unable to deliver a consistent experience for each and every customer, he added.

[Read: Branding Your Business for Every Stage of Growth]

Branding is a powerful tool — perhaps the most powerful tool in your arsenal — for differentiating your business from your competitors. Take the time to think through your unique brand positioning and identity to ensure that it translates to your customers and their overall experience with your company.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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